Set in its own archipelago of islets off the west coast of Rhodes , Chalki is strikingly different in atmosphere from anything on Rhodes itself. The wealth once brought to this tiny, infertile island by the sponge-trade in the 19th century is immediately evident in the gracious sweep of stone houses of neoclassical inspiration that encircle the harbour: they are reminiscent of those on Symi, though not quite so patrician or so numerous. The underwater sponge-beds were the island’s principal ‘garden’, since the harsh and waterless mountains of its interior afforded only a few oases for cultivation. Nonetheless, such ‘oases’ as existed were commented on long ago by Theophrastus (Historia Plantarum, VIII.2.9) who observed that barley would crop twice there in the same time that it took to do so once in the other islands nearby. It was perhaps on the strength of this that the island supported a relatively large population and several settlements in Antiquity, the remains of which have been found all the way from the east coast (the temple of Apollo at Pefkia) to the island’s western extremity at Cape Kephali (where there are ruins of a Hellenistic tower), as well as in the area of the island’s walled acropolis high above the centre of the south coast. The archaeological finds—most impressive of which is a gold amphora, now in the Louvre, depicting scenes from the Trojan War—which have been found in 4th century bc tombs on the island also suggest a level of considerable prosperity. Although the island’s name appears to refer to ‘copper’ (anc. Greek, chalkos), there is no remaining evidence either of the extraction or the working of the metal on the island. It is possible that the name instead derives from the Phoenician word ‘karki’ meaning ‘shells’: indeed the island’s mediaeval name, still sometimes used by mariners today, was ‘Charki’. A number of mediaeval churches with painted interiors and the fine castle of the Knights of St John are witness to the continuing importance of the island in later centuries; so, too, the dignified neoclassical architecture of the port. Chalki today is a peaceful retreat, offering un-crowded beaches, scenic walks, and both a dramatic landscape inland and an attractive seascape all around formed by its outlying islands. One of these, Alimnia, has considerable interest of its own and forms a subsection of this chapter.

Chalki Island is part of the Dodecanese Island Group, Greece.

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